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Review Of On Line Printed Circuit Board ( PCB ) Manufacturing Services

The good old days

In the good old days the options available for the hobbyist to make PCB s were limited to various self etch systems. If you played with PCBs, you kept quantities of fairly noxious chemicals around the house, got moaned at leaving brown ferric chloride stains in the sink and got used to having the finger colour of a heavy smoker. Good quality PCBs were out of reach of most, due to the high cost involved in the manufacture of small quantities of PCBs.
Also etching your own PCBs limited the number of layers in the PCB to just two and that was a difficult and long winded process. Plus you didn’t get the niceties such as a silk screen or the necessities like a solder mask.
Come forward to now. Several companies have come up with offerings for the gifted amateur or the small business to manufacture good quality PCBs at reasonable prices in numbers down to just one. The low cost is achieved by sharing the production costs amonst many buyers. Having used these companies there is no way I would want to return to the good old days.

PCB Cost sharing Systems

So how does it work – well the problem in the old days was the NRE – that’s Non Recurring Engineering cost or set up charge. The PCB manufacturer would charge a fixed ( large ) fee to setup his production facility to make your board. If you are making loads of boards the cost is spread, if your making only one board the cost was usually prohibitive.
The idea now is that the PCB manufacturer accepts designs of a similar type – same layer count and board thickness etc. – from many customers. All the designs are then placed in to one big PCB. The big PCB is then made and split up into each customers requirement. Each customer is charged for the area of PCB used. There is still a setup charge, but the cost is spread amongst all the customers.
The disadvantage of this approach is that if you want to repeat the order you pay again for the setup charges.

Technical Specifications

There are now many companies on the Internet who offer these services. The range of product offerings is sufficient for most, ranging from simple single layer PCBs, upto complex 6 layer beasts. All the companies I use provide these facilities in the basic price :
unlimited drill sizes.
unlimited numbers of holes.
complex board shapes.
solder mask.
silk screen.
Minimum trace widths = 0.15mm ( 6 mil )
Minimum hole diameter = 0.3mm ( 12 mil )
All the PCB companies offer extended technical specifications such as blind/buried vias, micro vias, gold plating at extra cost.


Generally the PCBs are priced on the quantity of material used. It is worth checking the prices across several companies, as they have different pricing structures. There are cost estimators on all the web sites which allow for easy price comparison.

Where can I get this done ?

This is a list of the companies I have used offering a shared PCB service to individuals and to companies. I’m deliberately only considering EU based companies as it makes the customs and excise stuff much easier to handle. You don’t get any nasty surprises when the goods arrive.


These are my current go to PCB manufacture.

Very professional and a large range of options available at very competitive prices, plus a fast turn quote system for PCBs that don’t fit into the web based options – like proper controlled impedance designs.


Setup to handle the hobbyist as well as professional markets. The big plus for the hobbyist is the number of different file formats that can be used. They will accept design files from many different PCB layout tools, gcpreview files , as well as industry standard Gerber (RS274-X) . It is worth checking that both your PCB tools and version are supported before using this bit of service though. They also provide a free PCB pool version of TARGET 3001 PCB layout software.

Offer a range prototype PCBs
1 to 6 layers in standard 1.6mm thick FR4.
any shape pcb as standard.
PCBs are priced purely on the quantity of PCB used, with a minimum area of 1dm2 .( that’s a PCB 100mm by 100mm).
Other build options are available on request.

Also PCB_POOL will provide a Free Laser SMD stencil with prototype orders – which is ideal if you have bought the PCB-POOL reflow oven.

Accept a full range of credit cards.


Example Board

Now doing a range of 3D printed products and metal front panels designs.


They are more aimed at the professional prototype market and will only accept data in Gerber (RS274-X) format. The shared PCB concept is slightly different here, in that here you have to catch a ‘train’. Each train is a PCB type, for example 4 layer 1.6mm is a train. Trains depart on different days of the week. Popular trains leave everyday, less popular maybe only once a week. All the delivery times are from when a train leaves not when the order is placed.

Offer a wide range of products :
1.6mm FR4 (upto 6 layers )
0.8mm FR4 ( to 2 layers )
flexible PCB ( to 2 layers )
any shape pcb as standard.

Prices are a mix of setup charge and area, an on line estimator is available.
Minimum board size is 10mm x 10mm.
Other build options are available on request.
PCB assembly is also available. ( which is very useful if fine pitch SMD devices or BGAs are being used)
Accept a full range of credit cards.


Example Board

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